It used to go without saying that ribs meant barbecue sauce. But the chin-staining classic—formerly confined to joints that serve Budweiser by the pitcher on vinyl tablecloths—has found some new allies, who've ditched the sweet-and-savory condiment and are serving diners wearing dress shirts, not flannels. The country's most creative culinary minds are breaking out heritage pork, almond-wood fires, duck fat, and even cola to make sure their versions are anything but ordinary—and they recommend you get equally creative at home. But don't worry: This isn't dainty stuff. Sauces made with soy, lime, harissa, and rum guarantee your fingers will still need cleaning. JJ Goode
THE RECIPE: Hoisin Spareribs
At his new Asian-inspired noodle shop in Denver, Bones (bonesdenver.com), Frank Bonanno serves a spin on Chinese ribs—and you can too.
¿ cup olive oil; 3¿-lb rack of pork spareribs; salt and pepper; 32 oz unsalted chicken stock; ¿ cup cola; 8¿-oz jar hoisin sauce; 1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped; ¿ cup chopped marcona almonds; the juice of ¿ lime
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Put a large Dutch oven or skillet with a lid over high heat. Add the oil, season the ribs with salt and pepper, and add them to the pan. Cook, flipping the rack once, until both sides are browned (about five minutes per side). Add the stock and cola, bring to a simmer, and cover. Turn heat to medium-low and cook until the ribs are tender, about 45 minutes. Remove the ribs, reserving the cooking liquid, put them on a foil-lined cookie sheet, and brush with hoisin. Bake until crispy, about 10 minutes. Cut into ribs and top with cooking liquid, cilantro, almonds, and lime juice.
WHERE TO EAT: The Best Non-BBQ Versions
1. NEW YORK CITY: Fatty Crab
Corwin Kave cooks a Flintstonian cut (with the fatty belly and skin attached) in a humidity-controlled oven overnight before deep-frying it and pouring on a sticky sauce of smoked palm sugar, fish sauce, and lime. Upper West Side location, 2170 Broadway, 212-496-2722; fattycrab.com
2. MIAMI: Eos
Ambassador Michael Psilakis cures baby-back ribs from heritage pigs in coffee, dried chilies, and rum (hey, it's Miami), then slow-cooks them for 18 hours in duck fat. Viceroy Miami, 485 Brickell Ave., 305-503-0373; viceroymiami.com
3. CHICAGO: Publican
The ribs recipe at Paul Kahan's latest venture was inspired by a version he whipped up at his annual cookout. The key factors are fat and tang: meaty country ribs mingling with a marinade of ginger, soy, and palm sugar. 837 W. Fulton Market, 312-733-9555; thepublicanrestaurant.com